ECB facing £1m legal threat over Kevin Pietersen contract - Telegraph
Pietersen has been advised he has strong grounds to bring an action for unfair dismissal and breach of contract against the ECB if his central contract is not renewed when it expires on Sept 30.
The legal advice strengthens Pietersen’s position with England, although gaining a central contract will not necessarily guarantee him a place in Andy Flower’s side, with the coach one of the main obstacles to him resuming his international career.
The awarding of a central contract will be portrayed as a positive step but in reality it appears the board have little choice. Pietersen is believed to be bullish about his position and the fact that his reputation has been shredded already makes him less likely to back away from a legal fight.
The legal ramifications have added to the delicate nature of negotiations between Pietersen and the board, which were stepped up this week when Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, arrived in Sri Lanka where Pietersen is working as a television commentator.
After service longer than 12 months, contracted staff are considered full-time employees in the eyes of the law. Pietersen has been centrally contracted by the ECB for six years and the failure to renew a fixed-term contract is technically dismissal by his employer.
Central contracts have been in existence for 12 years but historically there has always been a cricketing reason around ability to perform or fitness that has led to a player’s deal not being renewed. In Pietersen’s case there is no cricketing reason to dismiss him. He will, in essence, have been sacked for disciplinary reasons.
Pietersen was left out of the Lord’s Test and meetings have taken place behind closed doors but he has not received written warnings and at no point has the ECB withdrawn his central contract, a fact which could weaken its case.
There is no question Pietersen has been hard to manage and Flower is tired of dealing with his unpredictable behaviour. He could be accused of unsettling team-mates and the management structure, or behaviour unbecoming of an England player, but the central part of the case against Pietersen, the messages he sent to the South African side, would be very vulnerable in court.
Nobody at the ECB has viewed the messages and Pietersen has only publicly admitted to sending “provocative” content, a word no doubt selected on the advice of his lawyers and contrasting with the more serious term, “derogatory”, used by the ECB.
Over the past two weeks several members of the England hierarchy have referenced outstanding “issues” in relation to Pietersen being left off the list of centrally contracted players and the tour squad to India. The Daily Telegraph understands it is the content of the messages which remains the main issue. Pietersen has not divulged what he said to the South African players, leaving the ECB backed into a corner legally.
A case for unfair dismissal would probably be easier for Pietersen to win but compensation payments are capped by the Government at £72,000 - a paltry sum to a highly-paid sportsman.
However, breach of contract is far more serious and the case would have to be heard in the High Court, opening up the prospect of a bigger payout. Pietersen’s basic salary is worth about £250,000.
For a player who appears in all forms of the game (as Pietersen has recently indicated a willingness to do once again) he can earn about another £200,000 in appearance fees.
Bonuses for winning Test matches, Test series and one-day internationals would be added on top as well as earnings from endorsements and pension payments. Legal costs would also rack up the final payment were he to win a court case.
If the matter were to reach court it would be bruising for both sides.
The ECB would be able to publicly reveal Pietersen’s behaviour and claim he had breached his contract, but the board’s procedures would also come to light.
Pietersen has not talked publicly about his legal options but Piers Morgan has become his unofficial mouthpiece championing his cause on Twitter. Last week Morgan tweeted: “The ongoing victimisation of @kevinpp24 [Pietersen’s twitter name] is a total disgrace. ECB hasn’t produced a shred of evidence against him. He should now sue them.”
The two sides were close to an agreement two weeks ago but the position changed after the ECB’s last board meeting. A few days later Pietersen turned down the offer of a four-month interim contract.
Emotion abounds in sport and the dressing-room balance is hard to portray in legal terms. The high-profile nature of the player in question has also added to the problems but the Pietersen saga has served as precedent for the ECB when it comes to dealing with its international stars and will lead to a change in the terms and conditions of central contracts, which are due to be renewed next year.
Both sides realise solving the contractual issue is just the first step. Reintegrating Pietersen into the dressing room will be the biggest hurdle and will begin on the tour to New Zealand in the new year.